Why We Need Spies

By Alan Caruba

In West Point and military academies around the world, a book written two and a half thousand years ago is studied. It is “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu and it deftly spells out the difference between victory and defeat.

“The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.”

On the topic of spies, Sun Tzu wrote, “to remain in ignorance of the enemy’s condition, simply because one grudges the outlay of a hundred ounces of silver in honors and emoluments, is the height of inhumanity.” He then names five classes of spies. “Be subtle! And use your spies for every kind of business.”

The lesson from 9/11, published in the Commission report that followed, was that while the U.S. had a fairly massive espionage and counter-espionage community, they were not effectively communicating with one another. Part of the problem was a legal “wall” that had been put up between spymasters and law enforcement personnel.

A series, “Top Secret America”, running in The Washington Post, was initially decried as giving away America’s secrets regarding its intelligence gathering community, but as the report points out, it took two years to put together and was based “on government documents and contracts, job descriptions, property records, corporate and social networking Web sites, additional records, and hundreds of interviews with intelligence, military and corporate officials and former officials..”

If Dana Priest and William M. Arkin were able to access such information, then you can be sure that intelligence agencies in the nations of both our allies and enemies have already done so. The recent exposure of a Russian sleeper spy ring should be a reminder, not just of the bad old Cold War days, but that such spying goes on all the time by every nation.

Despite the initial displeasure expressed in some circles, I think the two reporters (Priestly is a Pulitzer Prize winner) have done the nation a favor. Consider the following:

Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.

An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.

Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, “creating redundancy and waste” according to the series. For example, 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.

Some 50,000 intelligence reports are published each year by security analysts.

Anyone who has to process a lot of information every day knows that too much information is almost as bad as too little because it is virtually impossible to reduce to an “actionable” level where response time may be a matter of hours.

And, yes, there probably are too many government organizations and private companies generating “intelligence.”

The Christmas underwear bomber is an example and, of course, the failed Times Square bomber, another, when the system does not work as hoped. The terrorists who are targeting the U.S. only have to be lucky once. The intelligence community has to get it right every hour of every day.

All these intelligence gathering and analyzing operations reflect the fact that the world is a very large place with lots of individual nations and lots of non-state terror organizations.

So, maybe, a little redundancy is not so awful? It is always useful in any situation that involves making war and the West is locked into a very long war with Islamic fascism and other enemies like North Korea, the dictatorship in Venezuela, the Russians as always, and the Chinese who have an enormous, sophisticated espionage operation.

Reading the Washington Post series, I was reminded of a famous quote of Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC – 43 BC) who said, “A nation can survive its fools, and even its ambitious, but it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable for he is known and carries his banner openly, but the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself…”

“He rots the soul of a nation. He works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city. He infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist.”

Wise words and a warning as timely as the morning’s headlines.

The Moral Lib­eral Fea­tured Writer, Alan Caruba, writes a daily post at http://factsnotfantasy.blogspot.com. An author, busi­ness and sci­ence writer, he is the founder of The National Anx­i­ety Center.

Copyright 2010 © Alan Caruba

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